ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A Maryland state senator facing federal bribery and obstruction of justice charges was removed from his position on the Senate Finance Committee on Monday night.
The Senate president removed Sen. Nathaniel Oaks from his committee assignment on recommendation from the General Assembly's ethics committee. A trial on the bribery allegations is scheduled for April 16, a week after the legislative session ends. A second trial on obstruction of justice allegations is scheduled for August.
The legislature's ethics panel opened its own investigation last month. However, it asked the U.S. attorney's office whether it should proceed with its own investigation to determine whether it should consider sanctions up to expulsion. Acting U.S. Attorney Stephen Schenning said he believed it would be prudent for the panel to hold off "until the federal charges are resolved," and the panel agreed to wait on its own full investigation to avoid having a negative impact on the federal case.
"During this initial review, the Committee has identified numerous potential violations of the Maryland Public Ethics Law arising from the actions of Senator Oaks that resulted in the filing of federal criminal charges," Sen. James DeGrange and Del. Adrienne Jones wrote in a letter to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. "These violations may include the misuse of public resources, conflicts of interest, misuse of the prestige of office, improper acceptance of gifts, failure to make required disclosures, and the failure to register as a lobbyist."
Oaks faces up to 20 years in prison if he is convicted on the federal charges. A conviction in the case would trigger his automatic suspension from the Senate, and he would be removed from office on final judgment against him.
The ethics committee said it intends to resume its investigation promptly at the conclusion of the federal case, but it decided to take the interim step of removing Oaks from the Finance Committee.
"However, the Committee is extremely concerned about the seriousness of the allegations, as well as their impact on the confidence of Maryland's citizens in their government officials and the Maryland General Assembly," the panel wrote. "Therefore, the Committee recommends that you remove Senator Oaks from all of his committee assignments pending the outcome of the federal trial and subsequent Committee actions."
Oaks was not in the chamber when the letter was read Monday night in the Senate. Miller said Oaks had agreed to take an excused absence.
The federal indictment alleges that Oaks took $5,000 from a source cooperating with prosecutors to file a request for a $250,000 bond bill on the source's behalf for a project. The obstruction of justice charge stems from allegations that Oaks tipped off the target of a federal investigation after having agreed to cooperate with the FBI by recording his conversations with the target of a new investigation.
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